O n August 21, Hitman: Agent 47 opens in theaters. Agent 47 is not a sequel to the Timothy Olyphant-led critical ﬂ op from 2007. Director Aleksander Bach is g iving this famed video game character a fresh start with a reboot starring Rupert Friend (Homeland). We talked to Bach and Friend about adapting a game franchise to the silver screen. interview by Andrew Reiner
How did you get involved with the project? Were you aware of the games before you went into it?
Aleksander Bach: No, I wasn’t aware; I was never really a gamer. Folks came to me because of my commercial work before. What was important to them was the character of Agent 47. That’s where I got involved. He’s such a cold killer, he’s an assassin, he’s a clone. But at the same time, for me as a director, I was super interested in the mystery behind this assassin.
I played the game, and studied like crazy. I started thinking, “Okay, what can we give to the fans that they cannot get in the video game?” It’s hard because every gamer is his or her own director when playing the game. What you cannot achieve in the game, but can in the movie, is looking behind the cold eyes of the attacker, and seeing how much humanity is there. To establish a real antihero, you need to have imperfection in the character so you can feel with him. Those things were very important to me. I have to tell you there are so many game adaptions that are not good. They just copy the game, or they try something that doesn’t work. In our case, I knew the key had to be a character-driven story. This is what fans love so much about Agent 47. He’s such a great and interesting character. It’s a character-driven story, and not just a plot-driven story.
What are you doing to differentiate this ﬁlm from the 2007 Hitman movie?
AB: I personally never liked the ﬁ rst movie. For me, I needed something more like what would 47 do. The ﬁ rst part of that movie is so much about 47 and the love story that I just don’t buy it. He’s an assassin, and there’s little space for emotion in him.
When we were rebooting, it was important to develop a character who is intense and intelligent. I also wanted to reinvent the look for this ﬁlm. I wanted a visual look, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to have a game-ish look. I think it’s a fresh approach. It’s going to be very different than the ﬁ rst movie. I’m really proud of it.
Did you go back and play any of the old video games for research?
Rupert Friend: Hell yeah, I did. I wasn’t a big gamer before, but I got a care package from one of the producers because I told them I need to know everything. I need to know how this guy moves, I need to understand everything. So my approach to that was to go in through the games. I’d never played somebody who had a whole world created for them before, and here’s a guy who has a decade of backstory, history, missions, dilemmas. I wanted to play all of them. I loved Absolution. I thought that the feel of it, the gameplay, the intelligence, was wonderful coupled with this incredible attention to detail and graphics. For me, particularly as an actor, what I really got from Absolution was that the game makers had studied a regular human being in the way that the guy moved. For me it was very important that the stealth element was a part of it. There is some explosive action in this ﬁlm, but for me I really wanted to insist with everybody that we keep in the elements of stealing people’s clothes, hiding your bodies, the element of “Don’t pull a gun unless you have to because it’s gonna cause a ruckus and people are going to come looking for you.”
The trailers make the movie look like a summer blockbuster with explosions, fast cars, and more explosions. What tone can we expect when it hits theaters?
AB: The stealth of Agent 47 is super important. What you see in the trailer is just loud. I can say the stealth is there in the movie. I took care of it. There are the loud beats too, of course.
Give us a little rundown of what we can expect from this movie from a narrative perspective.
AB: Agent 47 is of course our main character, but it’s basically about this girl who is looking for a person. She doesn’t even know who this person is. Agent 47 appears and is about to kill this girl. At this point, Zachary Quinto tells her that he’s there to protect her. She starts to trust him because he tells her that Agent 47 wants to kill her. They start to escape. And at some point, we’re doing something unexpected. There’s a relationship between Agent 47 and Katia van Dees. What kind of relationship do they have? We explore that in the movie.
Agent 47 is an interesting character. He’s expressive with his attire, almost like a superhero. He always wears the red tie with his immaculate suit and wields the signature pistols. His personality contradicts this look, however. He’s an introvert of sorts. How are you approaching Agent 47’s personality on the silver screen?
RF: It’s interesting that you point out the attire because we approached the suit very much as a character. If you’ve read up on the world Agent 47 is from, you know his background and everything, his suit is really important to him, and for me it was a huge help to get that right. We went to see every famous label you’ve heard of to get this suit made. We rejected all of them and we went with a tailor out of Madrid who ﬂew over to our ﬁlm set to make it from scratch out of the ﬁnest wool. I felt like “Here’s a guy who kills for money, but doesn’t have any family or friends or social life to speak of, so what does he spend his money on?” We deﬁnitely think he’s one of those guys who breaks out a new shirt every morning. He doesn’t wash them.
Are we going to get to know more about Agent 47’s backstory or is he going to be more like James Bond in that it’s told as we go?
AB: I consider this movie as the ﬁrst Hitman movie. It’s a reboot, and a completely different story. We start Agent 47’s life. You’re going to get a little bit of background, for sure, where everything started, where he came from, what kind of routes there have been. But it’s all connected with the second main character Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware). They put so much into their roles. We’re not just creating an action ﬁlm. The whole ensemble, especially the main characters like Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, and Hannah Ware – they put so much into the roles that I think it’s going to be really special.
What about his personality?
RF: We have this guy who is ostensibly genetically engineered. He’s been engineered to be superior to the rest of us mentally, physically, stamina, skill – every- thing. And yet, he goes a bit rogue, and in the eyes of his creator, there’s something wrong with his genetic code. My whole take on the character was that’s his secret weapon. The reason that 47 is better than the other 46 is because he has that little bit of humanity we all have. He has a conscience, he has a soul, he has empathy – it’s just that he’s able to suppress them in the name of his job. What happens when [those traits] get activated? An automaton – someone who’s a mercenary – is best if they don’t ask too many questions, right? Here’s a guy we ﬁnd beginning to ask the questions that a Doctor Frankenstein would not want his monster to ask.
Are there any little touches gamers may notice from your performance that you’re pulling from the games?
RF: I worked with the stunt team to invent a style of ﬁghting which felt very 47. We jokingly nicknamed it “garrate,” as in karate with a garrote. You know how he’s famous for his garrote, but it wasn’t in the script, and I thought that was a shame because it is such an iconic thing. So we did a whole sequence with just a garrote, and he escapes from a building, taking people out, disarming people, giving them interesting facial disﬁgurements, but all of it in a very slick, karate-esque way.
You mentioned working with your stunt team. What kind of training did you do for this role, and how long did you have to train?
RF: It’s been a two-year project. All in all, I trained for six months. I trained in boxing, Filipino knife work, Judo, Krav Maga, a little bit of kung-fu, and then a kind of style that the boys invented for 47 where he uses his legs on the top end of bodies. He’ll climb up you, wrap a leg around your neck, break it, take you to the ﬂoor – that’s something I must’ve done 40 or 50 times. You get quite friendly with your stuntman when you have to climb up his body.
Are you still playing games after getting your Hitman ﬁx?
RF: This is maybe a really geeky thing to admit to – I don’t know what the cool games are these days – but I am totally hooked on Hearthstone. My oldest friend, who I’ve known since I was eight, introduced me. We used to play on the Commodore 64 together. He had an Atari and I had a Commodore 64. You know, when you had to put in a cassette and wait 10 minutes for it to load? I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore. The only complaint I have about Hearthstone is you should be able to gift people your cards.